Naomi Bethune D'var Torah--Parshat Bereishit: Genesis 1:1 - 6:8

Shabbat Shalom. Today is a very special day and I am so glad you are all here to share it with me. But I want to talk about something serious. Have you ever wondered why God sent the flood? Why did God not warn people that if they kept on being evil they would die? Why didn’t God give them a chance?    

My Torah Portion is Bereishit, from Genesis, the first of the five books of the Torah. In this portion, God says that God will wipe out the whole world in a giant flood because of all the evil and badness God saw in people. But not all people were bad...”Noah found favor with the Lord.” He was very dedicated to God and responded to God by following God’s instructions to make an ark to save animals and his family from the flood.

My big question about my Torah portion is, “Why would God wipe out people God created if God knew that they were imperfect to begin with?”

The Torah says, “The Lord saw how great men’s wickedness was on earth and how every plan was evil. The Lord regretted what God had made and wanted to blot them out.” One problem that arises from my portion is that God did not warn people about the flood. However, rabbis interpreted in their commentaries that there were warnings. I want to describe a few midrashim, or stories that explain something that happened in the Torah, to respond to this question.

For example, in Midrash Tanchuma it states that God did warn people by building the ark. But people did not pay attention. Midrash Tanchuma is from the years 400-600 CE.

Midrash Tanchuma also states that Noah warned people clearly but the people laughed at him. The Midrash states, “Noah planted cedars, and the people of his day asked him, ‘What are planting cedars for?’ He told them, ‘God is about to bring a flood and has commanded me to build an ark for me and my family to escape in.’ When they heard his explanation, they all laughed and ridiculed him.”

My opinion on why God sent the flood is because God was ashamed that God made imperfect beings and wanted to start over. God could and should have given people a second chance. Don’t all people have faults? Aren’t we all imperfect? Noah should have said, “God, just give us a break!” 

People also believed that all the good things that were happening to them were their own doing – not that God was responsible for these. Have you ever felt like that? I have. Often people forget to be grateful for things such as having a loving family, having food to eat and even being alive. When you are grateful FOR SOMETHING, YOU ARE THANKFUL FOR THE EXISTENCE OF IT. This is different from being thankful to someone or something. Trust me, you’ll feel the difference. When good things happen, do you express gratitude for them, not specifically to someone but just because of this goodness? It is important to say thanks just because. And it feels really good.

In the book of Jonah, that we just read on Yom Kippur, the people of Nineveh were given a second chance and were not all killed. I think God should have encouraged people to be grateful for the many things they had instead of being impatient with them and wanting to destroy them in the flood.

When I read in my Torah portion the instructions to Noah to take groups of animals onto the ark and save them from the flood, it made me think about the importance of caring for animals today. Ever since I was little, I have loved animals. Most of all, I love going to the Franklin Park Zoo. I was six months old when I started going there. This is why I was excited to have the chance to work at the zoo for my Mitzvah Project for my bat mitzvah. I was a Junior Zoo Teen Volunteer this past winter and spring, working at the zoo for eight Saturdays.

This mission of the Franklin Park Zoo is to provide an environment for animals to have a safe place to live and thrive, educate people about animals and provide an enjoyable place for people to visit in Boston. We went behind the scenes at the zoo, learned about animals and how they are taken care of, and interacted with visitors. I made new friends and it was cool to learn more in depth about the zoo.

One day we went to feed the sloths and we got to go inside the cage. There was a mom, dad and baby sloth; the parents were holding on to the baby. We had to take a pair of tongs to feed them small pieces of carrot. Also, I saw kiwis, which are in the bird family. They are nocturnal so the zoo staff changed the lights in their bird area to be dark during the day and lighter at night. This way the kiwis are awake during the day when visitors come and asleep at night. I learned and experienced A LOT more but those were just two examples of what I did. I am proud that I got to learn more about animals and interact with them.

Thinking back to when I started preparing for my bat mitzvah one year ago, I have now learned that being a Jew is harder than it looks, in particular, learning a new language and making the commitment to observe holidays and go to services at temple. But it is also really great because I have gotten to learn a new language, experience a special culture and be around people with a strong sense of community.

In reflecting on what I have learned this past year, I now feel very strongly that we should harder to be grateful. I know people who get so many things – toys, clothes, technology – and they focus on them briefly and then move on to wanting more. There are some people who don’t have the things they need, let alone the things they want. We never seem to be satisfied. When you realize all the things we have, it can make us want to be grateful for everything.


I would now like to thank a lot of people. I want to thank someone who has been there for me from the start; she is a wonderful person and is always there to give me a helping hand – my mother. I want to thank my father, whose opinions have influenced my beliefs, helped me always question beliefs I have been taught and helped me create my own beliefs. I want to thank my sister Anna. Even though we sometimes fight, I love her and she loves me.

I want to thank Rabbi Penzner for all her encouragement, support and amazing teaching. I have learned so much from her. I want to thank Morah Tracy, my amazing bat mitzvah tutor and teacher, and temple member Ashley Adams, for helping me practice my d’var Torah. I want to thank my Grandma Debby and my Grandpa Leon. They are very smart and their experiences guide me. I also want to remember two people who are not here today: my Grandma Joan and my Grandpa Norman. I did not know them at all or very well. I wish I did and that they were here today. Last, I want to thank my friends who are always there to make me laugh and support me.

Most of all, I want to thank my family and friends who participated in the service today, and every one of you for being here to share this very important occasion with me. Shabbat Shalom again.


Posted on November 2, 2015 .